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NASCAR Food City 500 post-race press conference

With winner William Byron
Sunday, April 5, 2020

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William Byron
William Byron

THE MODERATOR: Thank you to all of you for joining us. We are now joined by William Byron, driver of the No. 24 AXALTA Chevrolet and the winner of today's Food City Showdown at the virtual Bristol Motor Speedway. William, congratulations. Tell us a little bit about those final laps.

WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I appreciate it. I thought we had a pretty solid race. Obviously, there was a lot to kind of decipher through and try to get through, but I thought we stayed up close to the front. We had the one tire strategy call that got us back to the top 5 and then we just had to work through the top 5 methodically after that. Was really proud of how we kind of did things, and thankful for Nick Ottinger, who kind of helps me on my esports team, and AXALTA for letting us run this cool paint scheme. It looks awesome. Hopefully we can it run it sometime in the real Cup car. I had a lot of fun.

Q: I'd like to start with a question about the aggressiveness on the track and kind of an overview of the race that we saw. The cautions and the parking and the drivers being really aggressive, did you expect all that?

WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I kind of expected it a little bit. You know, considering what guys were good and what guys were maybe not as experienced, racing on there is the same, but it really comes down to how you value how you race others, and I treat it like I would ‑‑ I race others the same way I would in the real car, and that's kind of what it takes to be good on there.

I think you just saw some guys that weren't maybe as experienced at it maybe in the back, but I'd say the top five or ten guys really know what they're doing, and those were the guys I was worried about racing the whole time.

Q: How frustrated were you last week after getting punted out of the way, and what does this win mean to you on the virtual side of things? You've been so strong on the virtual racing and obviously a very good sim racer. What does it mean to you, and were you frustrated at all during the week?

WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, you know, it's for fun, so I get that part of it. But like I said, I treat it ‑‑ for me mentally, I try to treat it as a race when the race is going on. After that obviously ‑‑ during the week I wasn't worried about Texas. I got over it pretty quick. But I think that it was just frustrating because we hadn't closed one yet and we had led the most laps, so to finally close the deal this week was really awesome, and yeah, I think it just is cool to see the hard work kind of pay off from obviously myself but the guys behind the scenes that are working with my esports team and stuff like that. It's cool and it's great for AXALTA and gives me some confidence, so I like that.

Q: It's interesting seeing how this has sort of taken on a new intensity at times. I don't know if it's just Bristol or the fact that this has gone on a few weeks, but you had Bubba quitting in the middle of today and Larson and Suárez both getting booted. Is that something that is sort of easier to have happen in this virtual environment? Like have you ever rage quit something, or is it a sign of just the intensity of this picking up? What do you attribute all that to?

WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I think the easy excuse is to say, oh, it's a game and all that, but at the end of the day, everyone is racing, and seeing how much time some guys have put in, I know that it means something to them.

You've got to race. It's race craft, and I feel like race craft is the same no matter what you're racing; whether it's on a computer or at the dirt track or at an asphalt race, it's the same. I think that's what I try to do, just stay patient, really race the top seven or eight guys. Denny is really good on here, Timmy Hill is pretty good, and John Hunter Nemechek seems pretty fast. So just try to worry about those guys.

But yeah, obviously some of the guys further back were obviously causing some wrecks and stuff. So, you just have to get through that and try to keep yourself clean through the race.

Q: A young guy like you that has time to practice, put the hours in, it's kind of not surprising that you would get up to speed in a quick way. For guys like the Busch brothers who this is their third race, how long is it going to take before we see those guys get more into the mix in the future?

WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I think Kyle was pretty fast this week, Busch. I thought he was ‑‑ in the practice races, I did a couple on Friday I guess it was, and Denny was really good and Kyle was pretty fast, too. I think the people that have strengths at certain racetracks are going to show up, and ultimately, it's just about kind of knowing the little nuances that are going to make you faster.

Yeah, it's just ‑‑ I wish we would have a little bit longer runs because I think you would have seen the guys who really had it figured out. I think Kyle and Denny and some of those guys would have come to the front. But unfortunately, it's kind of a short‑run race, but really, I think those guys are starting to get it. Hopefully if I can give them some tips or whatever, then get them rolling with some of the little nuances here and there.

Q: And just kind of curious, what are you doing to entertain yourself in addition to iRacing these days?

WILLIAM BYRON: I mean, honestly, just kind of trying to have a somewhat normal routine. I stay at home, obviously, I try not to be around a bunch of people, but my family is in town. My sister, she lives in New York, but she's been in town for a few weeks now, so I've been having fun with that, just kind of seeing my sister, and that's been great.

I feel fresh, and I feel like when we do go back racing, I'm excited for it because I use iRacing as just kind of a mental training, and I feel like I'm excited for when we do go back because we have fast cars there, too.

Q: I know you talked about it being for fun and everything, but do you think you feel any more pressure to win these races because everybody knows your history in iRacing?

WILLIAM BYRON: A little bit, yeah. I think that like the first week, I was I feel like the most nervous, and I think everyone gets nervous when they iRace just because you don't have the sound of the engine and some of those little adrenaline things that actually kick the nervousness down in the real car. So that is a little bit there, nerves for everybody, but I'd say so, yeah, just because people are like, oh, well, this is your thing and all that. Yeah, I think the first week that kind of showed. I was a little bit overaggressive knowing who I was going to race, and then this week I just tried to be patient, and it worked out pretty good.

Q: You mentioned Nick Ottinger, and I know he's been a big part of what you've done with establishing William Byron Esports. What kind of things were you leaning on him for and working with him on, and do you think anything that you guys are working on together will be able to translate for those guys when they go back and compete in the Coca‑Cola Series?

WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I think that those guys have helped me a lot. John is a great sim racer, too, and really, I've kind of built that relationship with Nick to learn from him. He's a cool guy. I like the way he thinks. Honestly the way he thinks is similar ‑‑ we think similarly, I guess.

When I watch him drive, I feel like I'm watching somewhat of the same things that I would do, and obviously he's really good. Yeah, I think that I just try to watch him on Tuesdays when they run the Coke Series, but hopefully ‑‑ I think he's like sixth or seventh in points right now. He finished second in the first race, so hopefully he can get a win here soon.

Q: And in regards to your race, if they'd had a late‑race caution ‑‑ you had been getting away pretty good on the restarts. Were there any nerves if you'd had one more caution to worry about?

WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, we were just worried about the tires because I had been out there for 60 or 70 laps on the same tires, so I was a little worried that I didn't have a lot of tire left, so I just tried to keep saving until really the last two laps. But I think the tire strategy worked out perfectly. We were able to pit there about halfway, cut the race in half, which is what we wanted to do, and a couple guys stayed out but we were able to methodically work our way back to the top 5 from ninth, I think, so that was great.

Q: You mentioned on your interview with the TV booth I think a few minutes ago that when you generally do iRacing these days, it's to learn or kind of improve your race craft, and you talked about how different it is to being in a competition with a much different group of guys. Could you just explain a little bit the differences between what you normally experience when you decide to do iRacing and what the last three weekends have been like?

WILLIAM BYRON: Well, I think that you're basically ‑‑ how iRacing works is there's a rating for each driver, and that goes from like 1,000 to basically 9,000, so I'm like a 6,300 rating, so I usually race with guys that are around that range or better, and so you'll have less cautions or you'll have more quality of like race craft, and I feel like when we put our race together, it's a wide variety of experience levels, so I think that's just tough to kind of manage.

But yeah, I try to use iRacing because it improves my race craft, and I feel like we've been doing a good job of promoting it the right way. We just have to make sure that everyone understands that there's races that you can do on there, and I try to do those races and not just run laps of practice by myself. The races that you can practice on kind of help improve my race craft, and that's why I use it to try to help me on the real car.

Q: You mentioned how you race people the way you want to be raced; do you get to see that in the same sort of fashion during the iRacing as you do ‑‑ maybe not the same way, but do you see some of the same traits that you would when you are racing someone on a real track?

WILLIAM BYRON: I think so, yeah. Definitely the tracks that you can maybe move someone out of the way or bump them out of the way are very similar. Last week obviously getting moved out of the way, I learned something there and kind of applied that towards this week. I got a little bit more aggressive with some of my moves during the week and tried to do that back to the guys so that I can kind of establish position on them.

So, I think, yeah, really that stuff is the same. You just ‑‑ it's just a matter of kind of understanding the little nuances that are obviously going to be different than a real car. You know, you don't have the sense of smell and noise and maybe feel, but you have vision, and your vision is really critical in there.

Q: Have the mid‑week practice races legitimately helped you get ready for Sunday's races, and if so, in what ways?

WILLIAM BYRON: I think so. I think what really helps me a lot is running ‑‑ they have these races that are called A‑fixed races, and it's Class A, which is the Cup cars, so I run those. I probably ran a handful of them, less than 10 this week, but somewhere around that number. They're very similar length of race to what we just ran, so I feel like those help me. Knowing the competition, knowing who's good and fast, and Denny Hamlin was obviously my biggest threat today I feel like, so I was kind of looking out for him and what he was doing through the week.

Yeah, I think those races are what help me kind of get better.

Q: And then how much did shifting to the single‑file restarts change the race for you, if at all? Do you feel like that was a benefit for you in the late restarts?

WILLIAM BYRON: It was tough. I mean, I think that double‑file restarts I think would have been a similar result. You know, if you were a bottom‑lane guy it's a little tough to get clear of the outside guys, so I would have had my hands full with second in a lot of instances if I didn't get a good jump. It just comes down to how good a restart you get. I feel like the single‑file restarts kind of brought the strength of certain guys to the front.

I don't really know if it changed everything that much. It was just a little bit hard to time and try to figure out. It kind of was like running short‑track races.

Q: What was going through your head there when you lost the lead for a little bit with the various pit strategies and everything because obviously it was a new position for you than the rest of the race after leading the first 73 laps. I know you had fresher tires, but it looked like once you were able to get a run on Smithley, you made pretty quick work of Bowman and DiBenedetto on the bottom, which isn't something we really saw today.

WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, honestly the biggest heart‑stopping moment was when Landon Cassill cut spun or whatever and he was coming back up the track and I had to kind of go to the bottom and I was sideways for a bit. Luckily nobody was on my bumper and I was able to save it. Yeah, I'll probably look back at that moment as like the race‑winning moment, missing that and kind of able to work my way back through the field. I think I started ninth and Kurt Busch raced me really clean and Alex raced me pretty clean, and then once I got to like second I knew that all I had to do was just manage my tires to make them overcome the older tires that I had in front of me, so I just kind of hung out for a while and let Buescher, knowing that his tires were going to give up after 10 or 15 laps just because they were older, so yeah, then we had a restart there and I was able to get by him, and we ran side‑by‑side for a couple laps, so he raced me good there, too.

Yeah, it was definitely ‑‑ things worked out to get back to the front. Luckily didn't ever really have to start in the back. I think the furthest back we were was ninth, so luckily it worked out on pit strategy.

Q: Seeing more of the virtual world in racing and the talents that are displayed, how much of a recruiting tool or a development tool do you see this in the entrance into actual real‑world racing?

WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I think that for me, I used it obviously to get started in my racing career, and I feel like I did that because I saw guys like Dale Jr. promoting it. If I were a young kid right now and I was 10 or 12 years old and didn't have the money to get into a real race car or didn't know anybody that has a real race car, then I would definitely get into iRacing. I was a race fan that would watch NASCAR on TV, and we'd go iRace after the race was over to try to figure out what it's like to be those guys.

I'm really fortunate that now I'm able to run the real race cars, but I definitely never forget about iRacing, kind of what it taught me.

Q: The number of laps y'all are running, I noticed it went from 100 to 125 last week and then we had the heat races and the length of the race today. Do you think the number of laps is about right for driver attention span and viewer attention span?

WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I mean, I think it could be a little shorter. The heat races, we probably didn't really need those today. But I think that honestly it was good. I definitely would be a fan of like at Bristol there, it's obviously a 50‑lap heat race and then a 150‑lap race, that's a long time. If we ran maybe 50 laps in a heat laps and then 80 laps in the race, that would be probably good, too.

Yeah, I think it's just a factor of the fact that it's Bristol and it's going to be a shorter race if it goes green.

Q: Can you just kind of take me through the emotions and how different they are this week from last week and if it was even a case ‑‑ is this stuff so serious, how upset you got last week, and is it a case that you and Timmy actually had to talk?

WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I mean, I think that the biggest difference is the time that it takes for your mind to recover from what happens. I mean, obviously when the race is going, I think anybody would be dumb to tell you that they don't take it seriously because it's a race, but it took me probably an hour after the race to really cool off and realize that I was just racing on the computer and I could get over it.

No, I didn't really think about Timmy all week. He actually sent me a message on Twitter on Thursday, and I was like, hey, it's all good. Granted, would I have raced him the same if he had been in front of me, for sure, because I kind of know the tone that he set with that move, but I wasn't worried about it after, I guess, Sunday night around 7:00.

Q: You're involved in the Coca‑Cola Racing Series with your own team; at some point sports are going to come back. You guys are going to go back to racing, the focus is going to be what happens on the track. You're involved in this in the Coca‑Cola Racing, the iRacing team. How does this carry forward once sports return, because obviously there will be more focus on that? What do you guys do and how does that keep going and try to build this alternate audience?

WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I think what I like about this racing is that anybody can go do it, and I think that's similar to the appeal of golf and really everyone can go play golf or everyone can iRace at their own level. Like that's what I want the appeal of this to be. I want it for to be kids, and I want people that want to see what we're doing on Sundays to be able to go on there and race, and then ultimately what the Coke Series should be about is that those guys are the best at it, and I feel confident some of those guys would do well in a real car, too.

I think that's understanding the skill level that they have, and that should hopefully bring an audience and the relatability that it has, the fact that anyone can go and try it.

Q: What were your thoughts on the restarts going single file in the middle of the race both last night and today?

WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I think that it was kind of necessary just because of the wrecks that were going on. Bristol is a tough track, and I really think it just comes down to ‑‑ it takes some laps to kind of understand what's going on, so yeah, it's a tough track, so I didn't ‑‑ I wasn't surprised.

Q: You mentioned Nick Ottinger and John Gorlinsky. How much time did you spend practicing with them this week?

WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, they were pretty helpful. They've been helpful since this deal got going a couple weeks ago, so it's been good to work with them. I feel like I've learned ‑‑ obviously I've raced on everything, but I've learned a lot about the little nuances that those guys do really well. I feel like that's what they've helped me with, and I've definitely grown an appreciation for how good they are.

Q: How much of an advantage have they been compared to maybe some of the drivers who don't have the Coca‑Cola Series drivers to lean on?

WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I think really everyone has kind of found one of those guys to really reach out to. I know that Denny has a team and Austin Dillon has a team, so all those guys really know what's going on. That's the best resource that we all have is to use those guys, so I feel like everyone has figured that out pretty recently.

Q: You spoke about your sim craft and mentioned earlier this week that Bristol wasn't your best track in sim and in real life. Can you talk a bit more in depth about what you can take away from today's race that may help you at Bristol later this season?

WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I think that honestly in Bristol recently, I've tried to work on the way that I drive the track, and I feel like the first time that I went there in the real car, everything from iRacing translated really well, and I did well, but then when I got into the Cup car I was a little bit lost. I worked on it a little bit this week, and I feel much better about it. I'm kind of excited to go back there here soon.

Q: The restarts, wheel spin kind of is a big factor. What did you necessarily do to try and remedy that, especially when it came to single‑file restarts?

WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I think just working on them throughout the week to know what was going to happen and how it was going to feel. It really just comes down to having a clean launch. You get wheel spin at the top of the gear in second gear, so I just tried to keep my launch smooth and get through the gears well, so all that stuff worked really well, so definitely excited about how the restarts were, and hopefully can carry that over to the next race that we have.

Q: When it comes to Bristol, in previous races the addition of PJ1 has been added to the bottom line, but what we noticed throughout the iRacing race, the outside line proved to be prevalent. Do you think that iRacing will eventually add that patch of PJ1 so there's a little bit more traction on that inside line?

WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I think so. I think they'll learn that from this week. I was able to run the middle and make that work pretty well, so we just worked really hard on being able to run the middle throughout this week, and I'm fortunate that that paid off for us.

THE MODERATOR: William, thank you again for joining us today.

WILLIAM BYRON: No problem. Thank you.

THE MODERATOR: And thank you to all the media for joining us, as well.

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